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Tuesday, March 5, 2024
The Observer

A tale of two basketball games

It’s been an exciting week for Fighting Irish basketball. After a few down seasons, Notre Dame welcomed a highly ranked conference opponent to Purcell Pavilion with an opportunity for a marquee win to put the program firmly back on the national map. The crowd was electric before tip-off and maintained that energy throughout a back-and-forth affair. At the end of a thrilling game in which the Irish showed remarkable grit and determination, Notre Dame pulled off the upset. The home crowd erupted in celebration, with the rest of the ACC put on notice — the Irish are back. If my conversations with fellow students earlier this week were anything to go by, you might be surprised by that paragraph. You might be thinking, didn’t we lose to Duke? Unfortunately, yes, the men’s basketball team came up short on Monday night. But on Tuesday, our #20 Fighting Irish women’s basketball team handed #3 NC State their first loss in ACC play for the biggest win of Niele Ivey’s tenure as head coach so far. With such a huge win in a major sport, you’d expect the student body to be bouncing with excitement. But that wasn’t the case. Almost no one I talked to knew about the NC State game, while seemingly everyone knew about the Duke game. While there was a clear home court advantage for Notre Dame on Tuesday night, I couldn’t help but wonder why more students weren’t at the game. The night before, a sold-out student section packed into Purcell to watch an unranked, but surging, team try for a longshot upset. Surely, the following night, a top 20 matchup with similar conference stakes would generate even more interest. Instead, at the NC State game, our small (but loud and proud) student section couldn’t have numbered more than a few dozen. It would be hard for any two-day span to paint a clearer picture of how Notre Dame, students and athletics administrators alike, approaches each basketball program. The men’s team gets the lion’s share of attention, despite the women’s team frequently playing in bigger games. For men’s games, nearly a quarter of the arena is reserved for student tickets, and demand is so high that the University has to implement a lottery system. For women’s games, there’s barely a student section at all, and often the band is the only student representation at the game. Whereas for men’s games, students get regular emails reminding them to sign-up for the ticket lottery, most women’s games don’t come with a similar reminder or appeal for student attendance. To me, this seems like a bit of a chicken-or-the-egg situation — is there no organized student section for women’s basketball because of less student demand, or is there less student demand because there is no organized student section? Whatever the answer, it’s clear that this can, and should, change. Notre Dame has made nine Final Fours, seven national title games and won it all twice — a level of success that most programs, men’s or women’s, can only dream of. The Irish regularly produce pro athletes — current WNBA stars like Skylar Diggins-Smith and Jewell Loyd played in Purcell Pavilion. What teams like Clemson and Ohio State have been over the last decade in college football, Notre Dame has been in women’s basketball. This top 5 program deserves a top 5 home environment, and a large, engaged student section should be right at the heart of that environment. Frankly, though, that track record of success is besides the point. The women’s basketball team shouldn’t need to go on a historic, decade-long run to get support from their fellow students. They are athletes, just like the men’s team, just like the football team. There’s no reason not to show them the same level of support. To be clear, I’m not saying that we shouldn’t show up to support the men’s team. Men’s basketball games are a ton of fun, and I know the team and coaches on the men’s side appreciate the student support. But why can’t we bring that energy and passion to women’s games? Why don’t women’s basketball games have every ounce the buy-in and support from the student body and administration that men’s games do? Women’s games are fun, energetic, and exciting. If I had to rank the top athletic events I’ve attended as a Notre Dame student, three of the top five would be women’s basketball games. Watching the women’s program has been one of the highlights of my time at Notre Dame. I want my fellow students to experience that same energy and make those same incredible memories. As Irish basketball alum and Phoenix Suns head coach Monty Williams likes to say, “I’m not calling you out, I’m calling you up.” Let’s do better, Notre Dame. It’s way past time we give women athletes their due.

Elijah Grammer

Masters of Nonprofit Administration ’22

Feb. 3

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.